Hollywood insider sends up industry’s foibles in triumphant return novel
“My Lucky Star,” by Joe Keenan. (Little, Brown, 2006) 368 pp., $24.95.
After more than a 10-year absence during which he wrote and produced the sitcom “Frasier” Joe Keenan returns to the fiction trade with “My Lucky Star.”
In his author’s notes, Keenan says television “offers handsome remuneration but very little downtime.”
Fortunately, the end result is worth the wait.
Keenan chronicles the misadventures of hapless writer Philip Cavanaugh and inveterate schemer Gilbert Selwyn. And in the process, he skewers Hollywood’s rich and famous. Philip and Gilbert at the anti-heroes of Keenan’s former novels “Blue Heaven” and “Putting on the Ritz.” The twosome, along with their trusty gal-pal and perennial savior Claire Simmons, are about to hit it big in Tinseltown, thanks to a successful (but not very well-read) producer who wants to turn “A Song for Greta,” a schmaltzy World War II potboiler, into the next award-winning movie. This vehicle will star Oscar-winning actress Diana Malenfant (“renowned for possessing a sense of entitlement that made Faye Dunaway look like a Carmelite”) and her impossibly handsome son, action star Stephen Donato.
Normally, stars of this magnitude don’t want neophytes working on their projects. But the scriptwriters manage to schmooze their way into the Malenfants’ good graces. Specifically, Philip agrees to masquerade as Glen, a star-struck fan who’ll charm his way into the life of Diana’s sister Lily, a washed-up actress who’s planning an explosive tell-all memoir.
Naturally, Diana doesn’t want her copious dirty laundry aired in public, nor does Stephen want the world or for that matter, his vapid wife Gina to know that he’s actually gay. In exchange for keeping the Malenfants and their ferocious publicist informed about Lily’s plans, Philip, Gilbert and Claire get to keep writing the script. Needless to say, things don’t go quite as planned, especially when Gilbert’s venomous, conniving ex-wife Moira Finch appears on the scene.
Many critics have compared Joe Keenan’s writing to that of legendary humorist P.G. Wodehouse. After all, Claire constantly comes to Philip and Gilbert’s rescue, like a female Jeeves extricating bumbling Bertie Wooster from yet another predicament.
However, Keenan’s bon mots in drawing room settings, larger-than-life characters and intricate plotting also calls to mind the works of Noel Coward and Ronald Firbank. It will come to no surprise for long-term Keenanites to learn that soon Philip and Gilbert have gotten themselves into another fine mess, and nearly drag one of Hollywood’s biggest stars out of the closet and into the muck in the process. To say any more would spoil the many twists and turns of “My Lucky Star.” It’s a ride one should experience with as little foreknowledge as possible.
Keenan has the ability to make readers cheer scoundrels as they plot, manipulate and backstab one another with impunity. Even sympathetic characters like Lily’s brother Monty (a delightful old scamp who entertains humpy hustlers under the guise of “acting lessons”) and Philip himself enter the fray with glee. Although Philip begins with his scruples intact, they take a pummeling when fame, fortune and the possibility of sex with Stephen Donato all become distinct possibilities. And who can blame him? But the more he gets to know Lily and Monty, the more Philip realizes that the Malenfants haven’t been entirely forthcoming about the truth of things.
Anyone who’s enjoyed Joe Keenan’s previous works will find “My Lucky Star” a delicious treat, loaded with scintillating banter, loads of dry wit and a bevy of impossible situations piling up like a freeway accident. Hollywood aficionados will devour this send-up of celebrity excess, foibles of the rich and the lengths some go to for their fifteen minutes of fame. Lily, for example, “has clung to her dwindling fame with grim tenacity, exploring every avenue open to an actress whose brief stardom has faded. She has tried character roles, TV and summer stock, with stops along with way in nightclubs, game shows, commercials and state fairs. She remains active or, at any rate, available to this day.”
Even at more than 300 pages, the novel maintains a frantic pace and reads like a masterfully executed bedroom farce. Hopefully Keenan won’t keep readers waiting another decade for his next literary triumph.
THE “‘WORD’ ON SHAHI
Go behind the scenes of TV’s hottest lesbian drama. “The L Word: Welcome to Our Planet” (Fireside, $16) was released last week, a fan-book that relies heavily on Showtime’s episodic photography and character bios.
North Texas native Sarah Shahi, pictured, who plays the spicy Carmen de la Pica Morales, receives a six-page spread. In her Q&A section, Shahi provides an inspired, foul-mouthed response to the “gay culture vs. straight culture” debate: “[Gays and lesbians] have relationship problems, marital problems, getting pregnant problems . Yes, you can fuck with a dildo, or sometimes you don’t want to fuck with a dildo. It’s like every other relationship. At the
end of the day, what’s the big fucking deal?”
Daniel A. Kusner
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, March 17, 2006.